Wednesday Round Up #7

Laughter is vital

Laughter, wrote Bergson, had ‘a knack of baffling every effort, of slipping away and escaping only to bob up again, a pert challenge flung at philosophic speculation’. It was almost as though there was something unnatural about subjecting one of the most pleasurable and ubiquitous human experiences to dry philosophical speculation. Anyone who has ever had to explain their own joke knows that comedy cannot survive that sort of analysis. As the American authors E B White and Katharine S White put it in 1941:

Humour can be dissected, as a frog can, but the thing dies in the process and the innards are discouraging to any but the purely scientific mind.

While his book on laughter is hardly a rib-tickling read, Bergson didn’t wish to adopt the attitude of an anatomist observing a frog’s dead insides. He believed that laughter should be studied as ‘a living thing’ and treated ‘with the respect due to life’.

Muddling Through: A Depression Memoir Like No Other

Memoirs are written by survivors, and survival imposes a retrospective sense of resolution on a person’s depression that the actual experience of it entirely lacks. Scialabba agrees with William James’s classic formulation: depression is an anguish “unknown to normal life,” because, as Scialabba puts it in the book’s moving introduction, no other pain feels “unlimited in both intensity and duration.” Depression seems like it will never end; life becomes an eternal, excruciating present. Your life no longer has a narrative, which is precisely what a memoir needs.

What makes Scialabba’s How To Be Depressed such a brilliant and unusual contribution to the literature of depression is the elegant solution he found to this predicament. He doesn’t write about himself—other people do. Rather than produce another “memoir,” he reproduces the notes his therapists and doctors took over the years. “They’re a very distinct form of writing,” Scialabba observes. “They’re almost a form of anti-writing.” This allows readers to encounter his depression from the outside; he relinquishes control of his story.

Economists on the Run

“Silly” was a word Krugman used a lot to describe pundits who raised fears of economic competition from other nations, especially China. Don’t worry about it, he said: Free trade will have only minor impact on your prosperity.

Now Krugman has come out and admitted, offhandedly, that his own understanding of economics has been seriously deficient as well. In a recent essay titled “What Economists (Including Me) Got Wrong About Globalization,” adapted from a forthcoming book on inequality, Krugman writes that he and other mainstream economists “missed a crucial part of the story” in failing to realize that globalization would lead to “hyperglobalization” and huge economic and social upheaval, particularly of the industrial middle class in America. And many of these working-class communities have been hit hard by Chinese competition, which economists made a “major mistake” in underestimating, Krugman says.

It was quite a “whoops” moment, considering all the ruined American communities and displaced millions of workers we’ve seen in the interim.

How Pandemics Wreak Havoc—and Open Minds

“The plague marked the end of the Middle Ages and the start of a great cultural renewal. Could the coronavirus, for all its destruction, offer a similar opportunity for radical change?”

How to talk to conspiracy theorists—and still be kind

“-Test the waters first. That way you save yourself time and energy. “You can ask what it would take to change their mind, and if they say they will never change their mind, then you should take them at their word and not bother engaging,” r/ChangeMyView moderator ihatedogs2 told me. In fact, the subreddit has a list of behaviors that indicate if a person is not genuinely open to discussion.

“-Agree. Remember the kernel of truth? Conspiracy theories often feature elements that everyone can agree on. Establish those to help build trust and an “I’m on your side” vibe to prep for the stickier stuff to come.”

How Afrofuturism Can Help the World Mend

“So ends “The Comet,” a relatively obscure but profoundly consequential short story by W. E. B. DuBois. Though best-known for his searing analyses of history and sociology, DuBois’ foray into fantasy in 1920 is among his most reflective works, ruthlessly blunt in its stance on racism’s inevitability. Most importantly, “The Comet” helped lay the foundation for a paradigm known as Afrofuturism.

A century later, as a comet carrying disease and social unrest has upended the world, Afrofuturism may be more relevant than ever. Its vision can help guide us out of the rubble, and help us to consider universes of better alternatives.

When most people think of Afrofuturism today, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Wakanda comes to mind, an African country that hides advanced technology from the world. Within Wakanda, Afrofuturism manifests most explicitly in the award-winning fashion and set design, a hypnotic blend of African traditional art and dress, cyberpunk, and space opera.

While highly visible examples like Black Panther certainly qualify, Afrofuturism has more traditionally lived in subgenres of literature, philosophy, music, fashion, and other aesthetics.

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